Caligula’s Backyard of Delights, Unearthed and Restored

The fourth of the 12 Caesars, Caligula – officially Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus – was a capricious, flammable first-century populist, perhaps wrongly remembered as the most tyrannical ruler of the empire. As Suetonius, Michael Wolff from ancient Rome, reported, he never forgot a little one, slept only a few hours a night and married several times, most recently with a woman named Milonia.

During the four years that Caligula occupied the Roman throne, his favorite hiding place was an imperial amusement garden called Horti Lamiani, the Mar-a-Lago of his time. The huge residential area extends on the Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills on which the city was originally built, in the area around what is now Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

There, on the outskirts of the city, there were villas, shrines and banquet halls in carefully laid out “natural” landscapes. The Horti Lamiani, an early version of a wildlife park, featured orchards, fountains, terraces, a bathhouse adorned with precious colored marble from all over the Mediterranean, and exotic animals, some of which were used for private circus games, as in the Colosseum.

When Caligula was assassinated in his palace on the Palatine Hill in AD 41, his body was taken to the Horti Lamiani, where it was cremated and hastily buried before being taken to the Mausoleum of Augustus on Campus Martius north of Capitoline Hill. According to Suetonius, Caligula’s ghost haunted the elite garden.

Historians have long believed that the remains of the lavish houses and parks would never be recovered. This spring, the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism will inaugurate the Nymphaeum Museum in Piazza Vittorio, an underground gallery that displays part of the Imperial Garden that was uncovered during an excavation from 2006 to 2015, under the rubble A condemned 19th-century apartment complex all brought gems, coins, pottery, jewelry, pottery, cameo glass, a theater mask, seeds of plants such as lemons, apricots and acacias imported from Asia, and bones from peacocks, deer , Lions, bears and ostriches.

“The ruins tell extraordinary stories, starting with the animals,” said Mirella Serlorenzi, excavation director at the Ministry of Culture. “It’s not difficult to imagine animals, some locked up and others running wild in these enchanted surroundings.” The Department of Ancient Science of the Sapienza University in Rome was involved in the project.

The objects and structural remains exhibited in the museum paint a vivid picture of wealth, power and opulence. Impressive examples of ancient Roman art include ornate mosaics and frescoes, a marble staircase, capitals made of colored marble and limestone, and a bronze brooch of the Imperial Guard with gold and mother-of-pearl. “All the most refined objects and works of art of the imperial era have appeared,” said Dr. Serlorenzi.

Classic Daisy Dunn said the finds were even more extravagant than expected. “The frescoes are incredibly ornate and of a very high decorative standard,” noted Dr. Dunn, whose book “In the shadow of Vesuvius” is a double biography of Pliny the Elder – a contemporary of Caligula – and his nephew Pliny the Younger. “Given the descriptions of Caligula’s rampant lifestyle and appetite for luxury, we might have expected the designs to be pretty gauche.”

The Horti Lamiani were commissioned by Lucius Aelius Lamia, a wealthy senator and consul who bequeathed his property to the emperor, most likely during the reign of his friend Tiberius from AD 14 to 37. When Caligula succeeded him, it is rumored that that Caligula and the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Macro, hastened the death of Tiberius by suffocating him with a pillow – he moved into the main house.

In an impressive eyewitness account, the philosopher Philo, who visited the estate in AD 40 on behalf of the Jews of Alexandria, and his fellow envoy Caligula, as he inspected the magnificent residences, had to lag behind, “examining the men’s and women’s rooms … and orders grant to make them more expensive. “The emperor, wrote Philo,” ordered the windows to be filled with transparent stones resembling white crystals, which do not obstruct the light but keep the wind and heat away from the sun. “

There is evidence that after Caligula’s violent death – he was hacked to pieces by his bodyguards – the house and garden survived at least until the Severan dynasty, which ruled from 193 to 235 AD. By the fourth century, the gardens had apparently been forgotten. and statues in the abandoned pavilions were broken to pieces to build the foundations of a number of spas. The statues were not discovered until 1874, three years after Rome was made the capital of the newly unified Kingdom of Italy. With the Esquiline Hill in the middle of a building boom, the Italian archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani poked around at freshly excavated construction sites and discovered a huge gallery with an alabaster floor and fluted columns made of Giallo Antico, which are considered the finest of the yellow marbles.

He later came across a rich collection of classical sculptures, which at some point in the history of the Horti had been deliberately hidden to protect them. One of the treasures was the Lancellotti Discobolus, now housed in the National Museum of Rome. the Esquiline Venus and a bust of Commodus, depicted as Hercules, now in the Capitoline Museums. In a short time the sculptures were carted away, the foundation stone for a house was laid and the ancient ruins were buried again.

The most recent excavation of the Horti took place under the rubble of apartment buildings that had been evacuated after the building collapsed in the 1970s. Similar to the exhumation of Richard III. In 2012 in Leicester, England, the excavation involved a modern car park.

16 years ago, the three and a half hectare property was bought by Enpam, a private foundation that manages pensions for Italian doctors and dentists. Exploratory core drilling for new headquarters and a six-story underground car park unearthed a wealth of first-century relics, from the type of window glass described by Philo to lead pipes named Claudius, Caligula’s uncle and successor.

While construction workers were building the five-story office building, archaeologists carefully screened and scraped off earth in a trench 18 feet below street level. In a study lab across town, paleobotanists and archaeozoologists analyzed fragments, and researchers carefully repaired a 10-foot-high wall fresco painted with a pigment made from ground cinnabar. The entire $ 3.5 million conservation and restoration project was signed by Enpam.

The foundation stone for the Nymphaeum Museum was laid in 2017. “The new room in the basement of Enpam brings to light one of the mythical places of the capital of the empire, one of the garden residences loved by the emperors,” said Daniela Porro, the museum director.

What all of this means for Caligula’s seemingly irredeemable reputation is an open question. He appears from Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars”, which was written as completely depraved 80 years after the emperor’s replacement: having incestuous relationships with his sisters, sleeping with everyone he likes, and criminals as food for his wild animals Using beef became too expensive and insisted that a loyal subject who swore to give his own life if the emperor survived an illness should keep his promise and die.

Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, stated that while Caligula may have been murdered because he was a monster, it is equally possible that he was made a monster because he was murdered. In “SPQR,” her rich story of ancient Rome, she argues, “It is hard to resist that the stories told about him are an inseparable mix of fact, exaggeration, willful misinterpretation, and outright fiction – mostly after his death built and mostly in favor of the new emperor Claudius. “

Whether Caligula got a raw deal out of history is a subject of heated and unrelenting debate. “There is clearly a certain bias in the sources,” allowed Dr. Thin. “But even without that it is difficult to imagine him as a good emperor. I doubt these new discoveries will do much to rehabilitate his character. But they should open up new perspectives for his world and reveal that it is just as heavenly as he wanted it to be. “

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